Taxpayers Now Footing Bill for Covington Mayor's Assistant
In the opening days of the new city commission in Covington, newly elected mayor Joe Meyer asked for approval to hire his own assistant, a position that he would pay for with his own money.
There were questions about whether such a role could be allowed, since technically this employee would not work for the City of Covington, but would still have all the same access to the city building and would use city equipment in the role. Ultimately, in a 4 to 1 vote, the commission allowed Meyer to move forward.
At the time, the mayor expressed a lack of trust between him and then-city manager Larry Klein. Previously, Klein's assistant also assisted Mayor Sherry Carran and the city commission when needed, but Meyer did not want that set-up.
"My relationship with the previous city manager made it necessary for me to compensate the assistant directly," Meyer wrote in an email to The River City News. "Both interim City Manager (Loren) Wolff and current City Manager (David) Johnston are willing to allow direct communication with a staffer serving as an assistant. Currently that position is not filled, but we are accepting applications."
It is not unprecedented for the city commission to have its own assistant at City Hall, but the position did not exist in recent years.
There was no precedence for a mayor paying for his own assistant in Covington.
Though there was much discussion in public about the move when Meyer hired former Mainstrasse Village Association executive director Annie Venerable to serve in the newly created role, there was no public discussion when taxpayers started to foot the bill for Venerable's employment.
The city commission voted to allow Meyer to pay for Venerable on January 3. On April 25, the job became a city-paid position at $25 per hour, 20 hours per week.That decision, which did not require a public vote, involved a city "position request form" signed by interim city manager Loren Wolff, Mayor Meyer, and city commissioners Tim Downing, Jordan Huizenga, and Michelle Williams.
Commissioner Bill Wells did not sign it.
On July 26, Venerable resigned from the job, saying that she had been looking for full-time employment and found such a position. Her resignation letter and a glowing Facebook post about the mayor that she wrote and that was emailed to Meyer, were obtained by The River City News through an open records request.
Maggie Mays, who, like Venerable, was concurrently a real estate agent with Pivot Realty at the time, was hired as Venerable's replacement at $20 per hour. The position was not advertised.
She started on July 31 and resigned on August 24.
The vacancy was advertised on the City of Covington website and Facebook page on October 18, two days after The River City News submitted an open records request inquiring about the change in the role's compensation, though in its official response, the city solicitor's office notes that it received the open records request on October 19.
Meyer answered questions about the matter via email. He said that he was also paying Venerable $25 per hour for the three and a half months prior to her role transitioning to a city-paid position. He also said that the nature of the change did not require a public meeting or vote.
He requested that Mays be hired to replace Venerable but said that he does not have authority to hire city personnel. "I don't have any information about who specifically made the decision to honor my request, but I'm assuming it was either (human resources director) JoAnn Simpson or interim city manager Loren Wolff," Meyer wrote.
When asked why Mays resigned so soon after starting, Meyer said that her short resignation email was the only communication he had with her about her departure.
As for the assistant's role now, Meyer said that the position's services are available to all the commissioners.
"I don't know whether my fellow commissioners utilize the assistance provided to them by city staff. We generally don't report to each other in that way," Meyer wrote. "You would have to ask each of them that question individually. Historically, the city has had an assistant for the mayor and commissioners."
In the current advertisement for the vacant position, the pay is back at $25 per hour. Applications were to be accepted through November 4.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher